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Japan’s Reds stun Shanghai to reach Asian final

Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – Brazilian Rafael Silva snatched the winner as Japan’s Urawa Reds shocked star-studded Shanghai SIPG 1-0 at home on Wednesday to reach the Asian Champions League final.

The Reds advance to face Saudi giants Al Hilal in next month’s two-leg championship clash after holding on for a 2-1 aggregate win that ended Japan’s miserable recent run in Asia’s premier club competition.

Silva pounced after just 11 minutes in Saitama when he met a Yosuke Kashiwagi corner to power a header past Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling for what proved to be the only goal of a fractious encounter.

Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later.

Although Shanghai largely dominated possession, with Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk threatening in spells, the visitors lacked end product, allowing Urawa to complete a relatively untroubled victory.

Hulk, who tops the Champions League scoring charts with nine goals, brought a smart save from Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a dipping free kick after 24 minutes.  

But the Reds could have added further goals in the second half as a Tomoaki Makino header clipped the bar and Shinzo Koroki saw a close-range effort brilliantly tipped over by Yan.

Another Hulk rocket 12 minutes from time forced a decent block from Nishikawa, who then reacted quickly to smother Elkeson’s follow-up.

But Shanghai’s performance had Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas ranting at his players and officials on the touchline a day after he turned 40.

“Urawa’s tactics worked,” said the former Chelsea boss.

“They let us have much of the possession but defended well and closed down space,” added Villas-Boas, brought in to deliver a first Asian title to the big-spending Shanghai club.

“Reaching the final was one of our goals this season so it’s very sad we’ve come up short.”

Chinese rivals Guangzhou Evergrande lifted the trophy in 2013 and 2015.

Urawa captain Yuki Abe praised his team mates after the Reds ended 10 years of hurt in the ACL.

“It was a great effort from the whole team to keep a clean sheet,” he said. 

“We knew the first goal would be crucial but we came into the match with no fear and got the result. Hopefully we can do it again in the final.”

Al Hilal completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Iran’s Persepolis on Tuesday after scoring four unanswered goals in the first leg.

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